Today I stretched my legs out in plush grass under a shady tree in the middle of picturesque Small Town U.S.A., a place where the suburbs are corn fields. I leaned back on my hands and looked up to find not one cloud in the blue sky.
My ears were full of melodic patriotism blaring from bull horns dotting a small town square, and a speaker system propped up on an empty portable outdoor stage in front of the local bakery.
I watched my kids hand tickets to the kind of ride operators who spend their summers driving short highways between small towns, towing carnival parts behind them. They claimed their seats on rickety metal Ferris wheels and homemade barrel trains. They rode over and over for what seemed like forever, waving to us excitedly every now and again when their eyes caught ours. They worked up a sweat in the bounce house, where wee ones placed their sacrificial shoes at the entry – an homage to the gods of inflated plastic and generators. Across the town square I noticed a dunk tank with an excited crowd gathered around. On the other side, a bean bag toss.
Today I sat on a curb for nearly two hours watching a parade, comprised of what was clearly the pride of Small Town U.S.A., weave its way through rows of lawn chairs and parked strollers. I watched sweaty politicians in button-down shirts shake hands with old folks in the crowd while kids scrambled to catch candy tossed their way by clowns and volunteer high schoolers. Between homemade floats came herds of tractors, different models and colors, all manned by resilient, wrinkled men who oozed hard work.
We waved at local firemen and small business owners, sports teams and civic clubs. I chuckled to myself at the irony of the town’s historical society inviting people to “like us on Facebook!”
Today we stood in honor of the vets as they marched past us holding flags. I looked at their faces and wondered where they had been, what they had seen, if they were perhaps looking back at us thinking that we just.don’t.understand. I silently thanked them for seeing what I don’t have to see.
Today my kids ate corn dogs on sticks with a side of root beer float. They shared a tire swing with their cousins and stopped running/crawling/skipping/jumping among a wooden park maze only long enough to shake stray mulch out of their shoes.
Today was full of big times in a small town. A day spent exactly how I wanted to with the people I most wanted to see in America’s quaintest place.
Made possible by the freedom that we gathered there to celebrate.